A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America
Author: Mike Yankoski
I finally took time to sit down and read Mike Yankoski's book, Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America. We've had the book in the house for several years. I think it was a gift from someone when I was on staff at Shoreline Community Church, but I'm not sure. Dealing with homeless issues is something we saw on a daily basis there. As the "big" church in Monterey, people knew they could seek help at Shoreline.
Like The Heart and the Fist, this is not a book that I will outline, add discussion questions or some kind of leaders guide, it's just a short review of thoughts I have based on the reading.
To begin with, it's really short and easy to read, so if you're looking for a book for those who don't read much, I highly recommend this one. With only eight chapters (sections), Mike Yankoski recounts his adventures with his friend Sam Purvis as they hit the pause button on college and subject themselves to living on the streets of Denver, Washington DC, Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix and San Diego.
If you look at the featured image on this post, you'll see that I intentionally included Matthew 16:24 in the background. We are called to be disciples of Christ, called to action, called to do something with our limited time on earth. This book is about Mike and Sam being faithful to hearing God's call in their life for this particular journey into the homeless subculture of the streets in a handful of major cities in America.
I greatly appreciate their patience in planning and executing this particular mission. They didn't just get motivated and take off; rather, they formed a board of advisors, asked for prayers and, get this, they listened to their elders. That is an amazing thought. God honored their plans and heartfelt desire to learn about homelessness by experiencing.
It was an experiment, one they could cancel at any time, but these guys were committed and stuck to their plans with little modification (they left Phoenix about a week earlier than planned because of the heat).
There are many lessons learned throughout the course of their journey. One of the most poignant stories was from a church in Portland. I wish I had a photo of this:
A large gray church rose up behind a wrought iron fence in front of us. The building was old and weathered. Above the mahogany double doors hung a sign in red letters: "No Trespassing. Church Business Only." A new chain and two huge padlocks secured the gate at the sidewalk.p. 114
How many times do we project those words instead of the words Jesus taught us to love the least of these. I know we need to lock our doors, but is there some way we can be open for those in need?
Here's a quick review of the cities and a thought on each as I flip back through the pages. It's interesting that because of my time in the military, I've lived in and around the cities in this book (with the exception of Portland).
- Colorado Springs (60 miles south of Denver),
- Manassas, Virginia (a city in the Washington DC area),
- Monterey, California (100 miles south of San Francisco...several trips there during our 3 years including a mission trip to the Tenderloin)
- Tucson, Arizona
- Much business in Los Angeles and a few trips to San Diego
Perhaps this was part of the appeal of the book and part of the reality that I've walk past homeless guys in most of these cities (and countless others in my travels). Hmmm. Something to think about.
Staying in a mission for a month was their way of getting acclimated to the idea of being homeless. It seems like they learned a lot in this process and makes me want to spend a month in mission somewhere without this computer, internet or cell phone. Seriously.
The separation of classes is really prevalent in DC...those who have (power and money) and those who have nothing. The sad reality that a huge part of this population comes from military veterans is difficult to appreciate. Why are our veterans abandoned?
The story of Tiffany in this chapter was really inspiring. A young Christian college student, Tiffany saw Mike and Sam and bought them dinner without knowing their story. Cool. I reminds me of something our daughter Cynthia might do (if she has, she wouldn't tell us anyway...that's how she is!). Seeing the guys were hungry, she simply offered to take them to dinner and listen to their story. Nice.
Basic needs for restrooms, showers, clean clothes and even something as simple as water are things the homeless population struggle to find. The "body basics" are daily concerns. The guys went for weeks without a shower because that was just not available. I'm reminded of the mission in Montgomery where they intentionally built showers and laundry facilities to help the homeless.
God's providence was evident in several ways in San Francisco. Reading this chapter reminded me of the week I spent with the youth of Shoreline Community Church as we ministered to those in the Tenderloin district...the poorest of the poor. I could smell the smells and see the faces of those I met as Yankoski recalled their experience. When they met a 17-year old preacher in the park who was following his calling I couldn't help but smile. We discount our teenagers too quickly these days. Here was a guy who was sincere. Well done.
I loved the Mr. White Polo Shirt story. Some megachurch with excellent security staff kicked Mike and Sam off the property because of an event the church was hosting. Later Mr White Polo Shirt found them in church, hugged them and asked for forgiveness. How often do we get a chance to ask for forgiveness for our missteps?
The story of Doug saving a guy from drowning was a surprise. The surrealistic experience toward the end of their time on the streets must have really made an impact on Mike and Sam. It's a brief, but Doug's story is symbolic of so many on the streets who are addicted to something they can't shake, though they try.
This is the incredibly sad reality of many on the streets: mentally ill, alcoholics, drug addicts, beaten, worn, without hope. These are the least in our society and we are called by Christ to serve them. I greatly appreciate the end of the book (pp 218-219) where Yankoski provides a few ideas and encouragement to get involved locally:
- Find the rescue mission nearest to you. Call and find out how you can get involved. Show up an hour early and plan on leaving an hour after you're scheduled to. Have conversations with the homeless as they stand outside, waiting to get in. Bring bottled water, baked cookies, granola bars, patience, and a sense of humor. You'll bless those who cannot bless you in return.
- Go downtown with a friend or friends (don't go alone). Buy cups of coffee or a bag of take-out food, find a homeless person sitting around asking for money, share your gifts, and enjoy a conversation. No agenda, no plans, no purpose other than to be with that person. You'll be amazed at what unfolds.
- Is it cold outside? Go to your closet and grab the sweater, sweatshirt, or coat you keep telling yourself you'll wear sometime but know you won't. Call up four friends and tell them to do the same thing. Then go downtown and hand out your warm clothing to the men or women huddled under the overpass or in a doorway. As you stand there thinking of how cold your nose is, you'll be amazed at the genuine thankfulness of someone whole whole body is probably numb. And your giving will warm your soul, too.
- Become a spokesperson in your your group, church, and community for those who have no voice. Be relentlessly suspicious of your comfortable life, and of the comfort zones that render so many Christian fellowships insensitive and ineffective in our communities. God calls us all to more. And you and I can lead the way, one small step at a time.
In other words, do something.